INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr PHOTOS Lihle Menziwa
We chat with local artist Thandazani Nofingxana, a passionate textile designer hailing from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. He elaborates on how his artistic spirit was ignited by the vibrant traditions of his Xhosa heritage.
Tell us about your upbringing and where your passion for fashion and design comes from.
My name is Thandazani Nofingxana (27). I’m a passionate textile designer hailing from the beautiful Xhosa-speaking region of the Eastern Cape, specifically Mthatha. My creative journey began here, where the rich cultural heritage and vibrant traditions of my people ignited my artistic spirit. I pursued my studies at the prestigious Nelson Mandela University, where I delved deep into the world of textiles. The university not only honed my technical skills, but also encouraged me to explore the intricate connections between design, culture, and social change. My Xhosa roots serve as a constant source of inspiration, weaving their way into every piece of design, and fabric I touch.
Could you elaborate on your fashion collection and what it was like showcasing it at Decorex JHB?
The inspiration for my fashion collection comes from a deeply personal and heartwarming source. It all started when I shared a behind-the-scenes glimpse of my photoshoot in Port Elizabeth with my mother. The photoshoot was a culmination of months of hard work and creative energy poured into the collection and I was excited to give her a glimpse of what I had achieved. She replied with a voice note that would give birth to the title of the collection.
In the voice note, my mother began by expressing how moved she was by the beauty of the location and the exquisite knitwear pieces she had seen in the video. Then, her tone changed, becoming more introspective and profound. She shared a prayer, spoken with a quiet reverence that made me feel like she was right there beside me. She said, “Zinceba zika Thixo ezi” – words in our native language that roughly translated to “These Are Gods Mercies”. From that point on, I knew that the title of my collection had to be “Zinceba Zika Thixo Ezi.”
Showing at Decorex at that scale was amazing. The agency I worked with is Clout/SA and Tracy Lee Lynch who has always been amazing in putting up shows like this and placing designers in one place. So fittingly the print that was printed all over was chosen by Tracy on the Nando’s Portal, and I had named it “Sisonke” which means “We are Together” when she gave me a call and said it would be shown with other designers’ work it was just a perfect metaphor of standing to gather as the creatives makers of South Africa.
What makes a good collection?
The storytelling aspect of the collection is the most important one for me and most South African designers have so many stories to tell. Pick a story that is close to your heart package it in a way that can be understood universally and then watch it become an inspiration to other people’s hearts/lives.
What is more important? Patterns? Colours or a combination of both?
Often, the most effective approach for me is to use a combination of both to achieve a desired outcome. For instance, I often combine patterns and colours in my textile fashion prints to create visually appealing and stylish clothing. But also localising your design for the target market, I mostly pull my references from cultural signifiers/artefacts of most South African Cultures and when I create a pattern I already have a backing of cultural history and stories that back my design, so when put out to the world its not a foreign product people and people are either familiar with a motifs colour or the story behind an artefact.
Who are some local designers you admire?
- Thebe Magugu. He writes so well, I admire his way of simplifying and conceptualising South African history in his clothes.
- Maxhosa Africa. He’s done so much for the culture, he’s definitely the reason most of us are so sure that speaking about our cultural nuances and where we come from is okay and we just have to believe in our uniqueness.
- Thandazani Nofingxana. This guy is all sorts of amazing.
- The Rich Mnisi Brand. He’s doing an amazing job in bridging storytelling, South African pop cultures, his personal story and everything he stands for.
- Lukhanyo Mdingi. I love his attention to detail and his use of colours.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Yes, It is the two-piece outfit I created for my third-year textile design collection at Mandela University, That collection gave me so much confidence and what I can do in this field, it’s probably my most photographed and published piece of work. At the time I was only finishing university with no real understanding of the fashion world. It resulted in 10 online articles, 4 book publications and newspaper stories. It was set as the Art and Design final year exam paper by the Department of Education 3 times in a row. I think those pieces saved my life, literally.
What has it been like collaborating with Clout/SA?
They are the best. Tracy is the GOAT. They have found a perfect spot and way to support South African designers and it is beneficial for both parties. I knew the first time I met Tracy that she’s got a vision and where they want to take South African stories and design is just unthinkable. I love them.
Where do you see SA fashion and design moving in the future?
I have a favourite Ravi Naidoo Tweet, He’s said the South African creative industry can be what India is to the IT global at rand prices. That is true, we have so much creativity in South Africa we are the hub of creative talent. Look at what we are doing to House music and Amapiano. So I see South African fashion moving very far as a response of these other growing industries around us like music.
What is next on your radar for 2024?
I’d like to travel next year, I went to Italy this October and it changed my perspective toward how I approach my business. More travelling means more perspective.
However the bigger goal beyond 2024 I am wanting to have a proper workshop in the Eastern Cape, since my work is mainly knitting and using wool which is one of our most exported raw materials, a knitwear workshop making use of these materials is on the way! Opening this workshop isn’t just a dream; it’s a commitment. A commitment to preserving our cultural heritage while fostering a new generation of artists who can infuse their unique perspectives into the world of textiles. It’s a testament to my unwavering belief in the power of art to transcend boundaries and bring people together.
As I continue to evolve as a designer, I remain committed to blending innovation with tradition, creating designs that pay homage to my Xhosa roots while pushing the boundaries of contemporary fashion. My journey has been one of self-discovery, perseverance, and a deep-rooted connection to the art of textile design. I’m excited to see where this creative path leads me next.